LAWYER Jose Daluz III will remain as chairman of the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) board of directors (BOD) after the board deferred Friday, June 2, 2023, any discussion and action on the demand letter that the Cebu City Hall had sent them last month to install a new chairman.

The BOD also chose not to take up such discussion in the meantime while there are speculations that all three BOD members appointed by the late mayor Edgardo Labella would be dismissed, said Daluz.

Daluz suspected two reasons why Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama wants him out as chairman of the board: first is the refusal of the BOD to privatize MCWD, and second is because of his personal suggestions on the political succession of their party coalition.

Daluz is president of the Panaghiusa Party, which formed a coalition with then acting mayor Rama’s Barug party and then Cebu City councilor, now Vice Mayor, Raymond Alvin Garcia’s Kusug party in the May 2022 elections.

Rama’s office had earlier sent a letter to the members of the BOD, demanding that they submit legal formalities relative to the installation of Miguelito Pato as the new chairman of the board. Dated May 22, 2023, the letter was signed by Cebu City Administrator Collin Rosell.

Daluz told SunStar Cebu Friday that the demand letter was included in their agenda for their board meeting on Friday morning.

However, he said the board deferred any discussion on the demand letter, and decided not to act on it, considering there is “a more serious action” to be made by City Hall.

“We believe there is a move of City Hall to remove us, three of us, (who were) appointed by Labella... meaning we don’t have to tackle anymore the request of the mayor to change the officers considering there is a more serious action, which is to remove the three of us,” Daluz said.

After terminating the previous BOD, Labella appointed Daluz, Pato, lawyer Francisco “Frank” Malilong Jr., former Cebu City mayor Alvin Garcia, and Manolette Dinsay in January 2020.

Two months after, or in March 2020, Labella appointed Jodelyn May Seno after the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) rejected the appointment of Garcia.

After their terms ended on Dec. 31, 2022, when Rama was already mayor, Malilong and Dinsay were replaced by former Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu City chapter president Earl Bonachita and lawyer Danilo Ortiz, respectively.

The members of the BOD have to serve for six years in one term.

In the case of Daluz, Pato and Seno, they are only serving the remaining years of the dismissed directors.

Daluz and Pato have only until 2024 to serve as members of the BOD, unless they are reappointed.

Daluz said Rama’s decision to oust him as chairman may have stemmed from the decision of the board not to privatize the entire MCWD operations, as well as from his message to one of their group chats suggesting that Rama run for Congress and have another member of their group run as mayor come the 2025 elections.

Daluz said there was a proposal from a private company to privatize MCWD, which was endorsed by Rama, but the board was not inclined to such idea.

He said MCWD should remain a government-owned and -controlled corporation so the public can still ask for accountability should the water district fail to deliver its mandate, which is to distribute water to its franchise areas.

The collection of payment should also be made by MCWD, not a private entity, he said.

“We did not agree with the mayor, sorry to say. The company offered a wholesale (privatization), meaning they have to take over on the operation and everything,” said Daluz.

“The distribution of water and collection (of payment), this is our core mandate,” he added.

He explained that if MCWD will be privatized, it will become a profit-driven entity, and the public could no longer demand accountability.

Informal chat

As for the other reason, Daluz said Rama might have taken his suggestion badly, adding his suggestion came out during an informal conversation in their group chat.

He said the informal conversation happened in May, days before Rama ordered his removal as chair. The move to remove Daluz as chairman of the BOD was announced in a press conference on May 18.

Considering the results of the May 2022 elections, Daluz told his partymates that younger members of their party should run for higher positions, saying the public now preferred younger and fresh names in the political scene. He gave former councilor Dave Tumulak as an example.

Tumulak got 141,225 votes in the 2022 elections despite running as an independent candidate.

Rama, who got more than 220,000 votes, will turn 69 this October.

Daluz said that as a party man, it was just his personal opinion, clarifying that he would respect the decision of the majority.

He also emphasized that he does not have plans on running, but he is also not closing his doors on any possibility.

SunStar Cebu tried to reach Rama for comment, but calls to him were unanswered.